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Collier County, Florida

Concentrating New Development Away from Environmentally Valuable Land

WilsonMiller, Inc.

In 2002, Collier County, Florida working in cooperation with a group of landowners and its citizens, created incentives and a new marketplace to conserve ecologically rich rural lands while welcoming more people on the land.

The Collier landowners hired a consulting firm, WilsonMiller, Inc., to assess their natural resources and develop a new model for land use planning. Using a geospatial analysis, WilsonMiller quantified and assigned values to environmentally sensitive features, such as wetlands and panther habitats, for a 195,000-acre area. This analysis is used to add “value” to traditional market prices for land.
Here is how it works. A Rural Land Stewardship plan identifies sending and receiving areas. The sending areas cover land with sensitive or rare natural resources like native pine forests. Landowners within the sending area can choose to sell Stewardship Credits to developers. The number of credits available for sale depends on the specific natural characteristics of the property. In addition, a landowner can gain “bonus credits” for choosing to restore certain areas.

The new Town of Ave Maria recently tested the new market. A new town and university are being built on 5,000 acres within the designated receiving area. The developer acquired approximately 30,000 credits which protected 17,000 acres of open natural land surrounding the community. The new town is being built as a compact, mixed-use community that concentrates growth in walkable neighborhoods close to stores and offices.

The Collier Rural Lands Stewardship Area will accommodate the projected 2025 population in new rural towns and villages. These towns will occupy only one-tenth of the land formerly needed for 5-acre home sites. This win-win solution will protect 90 percent of all native wetlands and upland forests at no cost to the public, and will provide an income stream to all landowners in the area. Now, landowners have an incentive and economic return for the protection of environmentally sensitive lands. In recognition of the potential and uniqueness of this approach, the State of Florida codified the Rural Land Stewardship Program in State law, and encouraged other counties to use Collier County as a model for rural lands planning. To date, Collier County has protected 56,000 acres using the innovative RLS program.

Additional information:
Rural Lands Stewardship Program: or

Demers 2003. Jenkins 2005.

Alan D. Reynolds